Alfonzo Porter is a contributor to The RootDC and the author of “More Like Barack, Less Like Tupac: Eradicating the Academic Achievement Gap by Countering Decades of the Hip Hop Hoax.” He is a speaker, consultant, former teacher and school administrator.
Parents who have demanded better teacher quality and heightened scrutiny of schools over the past decade should start by looking in the mirror if they want improved outcomes for their children. Better test
scores start at home. And parents may soon find themselves under the microscope for student performance if proponents of parental accountability standards get their way.
Although teachers and schools are held accountable for outcomes, many argue that it is time to hold parents responsible, too. The days of parents adopting a hands-off, “it’s the teacher’s job” approach to their child’s education are quickly coming to an end.
But where is the real action? We all nod when school officials such as Prince George’s County school system spokesman Briant Coleman toe the official line, as he did when he told me: “Education is a three-way street between teachers, students and parents. None of us can do it alone. Studies show that children with involved parents tend to do better in school. That is why we work at all levels to find ways to bring parents into the classroom and draw them into their child’s education.”
But former Prince George’s teacher LaQuane Smith says schools apparently still don’t get it.
“These kinds of statements miss the point,” Smith said of Coleman’s view. “Everybody agrees with it, but what are we going to do about the real problem of parental apathy?”
Some states are advocating measures such as parent report cards, mandatory parent service hours in schools, home visits to evaluate a child’s school readiness and even jail time for parents who are determined to be neglectful of their child’s schooling.
For example, in Florida, a Republican state lawmaker is pushing legislation aimed at grading parent participation. In Detroit, the Wayne County prosecutor recently sought an ordinance that would put parents behind bars for three days for educational neglect. On Capitol Hill, Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) sponsored the Education Begins at Home Act several years ago, which calls for home visits to assess a child’s preparedness for school.
With the start of the school year less than a month away in some jurisdictions, the focus on student achievement could well pivot from teacher to parent.
For some parents, the idea of teachers providing this type of feedback is a step in the right direction. Dupree Allen, a father of two children who attend Walker-Jones Educational Campus in the District, says parent report cards might be a good idea.
“I would love to know where I stand,” Allen said. “If my child’s school assigned a failing parent grade to me, it would tell me that I need to communicate more effectively with my kids’ teachers.”
Allen says that his son, Preonta Costly, 12, and daughter, Capria Costly, 10, are good students but that as a parent, he would like to hear more from the school as to how he might do a better job.
“I would even take it a step further and ask that parents who receive a needs improvement over successive quarters be required to volunteer at his/her child’s school,” he said.
In some cases, however, school systems seem to be going in the opposite direction. Several states, for instance, have passed so-called parent-trigger laws, which would allow parents to petition to remove staff members from failing schools; call for student surveys that give children a voice in assessing teacher performance; and require teacher applicants to audition for jobs. (Maryland has flirted with a parent-trigger law).
But these efforts ignore that there is no shortage of programs aimed at helping struggling students achieve. In most cases, phenomenal programs designed to help kids often die on the vine because of lack of participation.
For example, as part of the federal Title I program, there are more than 2.2 million slots for children to receive free tutoring help. Yet according to the Education Industry Association, only 400,000, or just over 18 percent, of these opportunities are used. The much-needed funding reverts back to school systems’ operating budgets.
Even worse, some parents expect gifts from tutoring companies for signing up their child for free services. Computers, iPods, amusement park tickets, video games and the like are not unusual recruitment bribes. Companies are openly told to provide for incentives in their service budgets. So, a program can quickly cease to be about helping the student but rather might determine which company will give the best “stuff” for signing up.
Too many parents are dropping the ball. We fool ourselves into thinking that more exacting methods of evaluating teachers alone can pull our nation out of its 30-year academic decline. Teachers don’t have a magic wand that will undo the neglect of homes that not only fail to support the schools but often demonstrate hostility toward their efforts.
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